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Report on language studies at the WAS-NS Primary School

Friday 11 March 2016

"Somehow- despite the dismal state of what people call ’the political situation’-the Primary School at Wahat al-Salam - Neve Shalom remains an oasis of honest and caring encounter, exciting learning, and all-round joy for our students, staff, parents, and friends. Everyone involved contributes to this miracle with a shared outlook and hope for the future."

The Primary School at Wahat al-Salam - Neve Shalom recently began its 32nd year and as the pioneer of integrated bilingual multicultural education in Israel, has had an impact on thousands of children and the development of the model in schools throughout the country. At the heart of the educational approach is equality and this includes the use of both Hebrew and Arabic in the every-day life and education of our children.

Since the school began, full bilingualism has been a challenge, with Hebrew as the dominant language in society; we have developed many new innovative approaches to helping our children utilize Arabic on a daily basis. Through the years the model has developed to meet the practical and educational needs of our children.

Last year, Dr. Alon Fragman and Dr. Aura Mor-Sommerfeld completed a first round of research testing the Arabic language proficiency of Hebrew-speakers in the WAS-NS primary school, grades 2, 3 and 4. The results were astonishing; the WAS-NS students scored up to 50 points higher (on a scale of 100) than students studying Arabic in Israeli high schools.

“The exposure to both Arabic and Hebrew already begins in kindergarten through elementary school, in a well-organized systematic bilingual program conducted by teachers who are familiar with second language pedagogy. This unique concept of the bilingual Arabic-Hebrew school of Neve Shalom seems to have a major effect on the acquisition process”, say Fragman and Mor-Sommerfeld in their soon to be published study.

In the past year there have been two major advances in our work on bilingual education in the school. The first is the development of a partnership with the Hagar Association: Jewish-Arab Education for Equality. They run the bilingual multicultural school in Beer Sheva and we have consolidated some of our teacher trainings. Sharing resources, they have made available to us 10 children’s books that they have developed in Hebrew and Arabic, to support bilingualism and teach Jewish, Christian and Muslim Holidays and National Days. We will share our joint experience of using these books in the classroom. Additionally, we have begun joint teacher training sessions with the teachers of the Hagar School in conjunction with the School for Peace. The second training this year included Dr. Maram Masarwi, Dean of the Faculty of Education atAl-Qasemi Academic College of Education, who discussed with the teachers critical pedagogy and its application in the classroom. The teachers also met in small groups to work on how to implement what they had learned. The teachers from both schools gained great benefit from sharing their knowledge and experiences and getting to know each other on the personal level. We have two additional joint-training seminars scheduled this year.

The second development has been the strengthening of the bilingual bicultural model by introducing 4 hours a week, in each class, for the teaching of "education, culture and tradition". This time has a specific focus on language, with an Arab and Jewish teacher being part of the class. As well as the two languages, culture and traditions are emphasized, by teaching the seasonal holidays and national days of the two people and nations.

This past school year, as part of our language education, the school held two special programs. One was a writing seminar for our students with the Arab writer, Nuzha Abu Gosh. For preparation, each class in the school read one of her stories. In her short stories and children’s books she reflects on the most important stages in her life; the fond memories of her grandmother’s tales, her father’s encouraging reactions to her literary talent and the support she found at home. In her visit to the school, she worked with each class in writing a story and learning how it is done. She wrote a sentence on the board and had the children write sentences that continued the thought, so that together they built a unique story.

In the second program, at the school’s initiation, our 5th and 6th grade pupil’s participated in a special program called "Writers Matter: Israeli and Palestinian-Cultural Narrative Building through Writing". The project was created by Dr. Robert Vogel of La Salle University and Professor Sami Adwan of Hebron University. Through the year, our children work in their classes on creative writing projects. At the end of the year, the project brings together our pupils with those of other schools, for a day long writing workshop that also engages the parents. The "Writers Matter" program is looking to expand its work with the primary school extending its reach to other schools in the area.

As a bilingual school, WAS-NS strives to give equal place and importance to both languages and over the years has developed unique approaches to achieve language fluency. This has developed over the years into a broader approach of a full-language environment. Encouraging conversational proficiency in Hebrew and Arabic among young people in Israel is a powerful tool in furthering informal relationships with peers, which leads to building confidence and trust between peoples.

We appreciate the partnership of all those who have made the development of this unique language fluency program possible.

Photos from Creative Writing Workshop

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